Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wigan Shocks Chelsea

By far the most notable EPL outcome of the week was Wigan's stunning 3-1 victory over Chelsea. Wigan were greatly helped by the penalty/red card combination that came from Cech bringing down Hugo Rodallega in the box. I still think this decision is far too harsh. The red card rule of the last defender bringing down an attacker is largely just, and certainly so if the foul is deliberate. However, the goalkeeper is hardly ever trying to bring the player down deliberately; it's usually a matter of the keeper going to ground to attempt to win the ball and/or trying to block a possible shot. When the goalkeeper brings down the player unintentionally, giving a red card and a man advantage for the rest of the match, as well as a penalty that is likely to be converted into a goal, is just way too harsh a price for a mistimed challenge.

Still, Carlo Ancelotti had no complaints after the match, saying he thought the result was correct and he did not know why the team did not play well. Chelsea is the last team in the Premier League to taste defeat, though their perfection had to end sometime. Manchester United now find themselves at the top of the table, thanks to a one score advantage in goal difference. United survived a "tricky" (quoting every single analyst before the match) fixture at Stoke that United saw the better of. Stoke created very little, but United failed to finish until the addition of Ryan Giggs for Nani. Nani did have one very good strike on goal, but otherwise hopes for a "breakout" year have gone wanting so far. Giggs, meanwhile, assisted on both United goals, leaving Berbatov a mere tap-in and providing wonderful service on a (dubiously given) free kick headed home by John O'Shea. United continue to win matches while not totally impressing, but with victories over Arsenal, Tottenham (away), and Man City in the bank, it would be hard to find any Red Devils' fans complaining about eighteen points from seven matches.

The Fernando Torres show rolls on. Torres leads the EPL with eight goals early in the season, and nearly all of them featured delightful quality. Torres' hat trick against Hull City in a 6-1 romp featured no exceptions to this rule. El Niño is possibly in the top form he's ever been in. He scored 33 goals in all competitions in his first season in Liverpool, and if he stays healthy the whole season (a significant "if") and stays in current form, he should blow by that figure. Not all is well for Liverpool though, as botched clearances and poor defensive play leave them vulnerable against more talented sides that will make them pay the price. Daniel Agger returning from injury would help provide some valuable depth. On a positive note, Emiliano Insúa seems to have established himself at left back with solid play and useful distribution going forward and within the attack. Liverpool also have ownership news this week, with Prince Faisal bin Fahad bin Abdullah Al Saud (hope that doesn't have to fit on a jersey) expressing his desire to purchase a 50% stake in the club. Despite the 350 million pound figure being thrown about, owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett are both playing down expectations about that money being invested in the club. Also they don't have the best relationship, you may have heard. Who knows what's really going on there.

Fulham showed improved form against Arsenal, but still lost 1-0 thanks to Robin van Persie and the heroics of third-string Arsenal keeper Vito Mannone, who made several spectacular saves. It wasn't the brightest performance for Arsenal, but they showed some needed grit that they didn't display in losses to the Manchester clubs. Still, given City's early season form, Arsenal is going to need every point they can get in order to qualify for the Champions League next year. City themselves defeated West Ham 3-1, and were mostly impressive, dominating long stretches of play.

Also notable this weekend was the performance of Robbie Keane in Tottenham's 5-0 thrashing of Burnley. Keane's had four of the goals, and had a wonderful opportunity for a fifth. It's hard not to be skeptical of Tottenham's chances to stay in the midst of the Big Four and Man City in the table. But with Keane, Defoe and Crouch (who scored a Carling Cup hat trick midweek) on the bench, Tottenham have a potent strike force as well as a very capable midfield, particularly when Modrić is healthy.

This upcoming weekend features struggling West Ham hosting struggling Fulham in a surprise relegation battle (for now, anyway). On Monday, Villa look to shrug off a disappointing loss to Blackburn by hosting Manchester City. And by far the biggest clash of the weekend will be Sunday at Stamford Bridge, with Liverpool traveling to face Chelsea. It's too early to eliminate a team like Liverpool from the title chase, but a loss would put them six points behind thanks to their early season losses. Meanwhile Chelsea have feasted on a fairly light schedule to this point, and will be looking to pick up some points against other top competition for the title.

Until then, football all week! The USA-Cameroon U-20 World Cup match is in progress, and the sides will likely be scoreless heading to the break in a mostly uneventful half (edit: USA 1-0! Bryan Arquez pounds home from short distance after a scrum on a free kick). And Champions League matches are today and tomorrow, with Rubin Kazan and Inter currently locked up at 1 at the half. The day's other matches will get going in an hour or so.

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